Sunday, April 11, 2010

Plane Crash May Strain Poland’s Ties With Russia

It was breaking news yesterday morning that the President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, and his wife were killed in a plane crash on their way to Russia. Now there are concerns over relations between Poland and Russia.
The crash came as a stunning blow to Poland, wiping out a large portion of the country’s leadership in one fiery explosion. And in a chilling twist, it happened at the moment that Russia and Poland were beginning to come to terms with the killing of more than 20,000 members of Poland’s elite officer corps in the same place 70 years ago.

“It is a damned place,” former President Aleksander Kwasniewski told TVN24. “It sends shivers down my spine.”

“This is a wound which will be very difficult to heal,” he said.
Russian emergency officials said 97 people were killed. They included Poland’s deputy foreign minister and a dozen members of Parliament, the chiefs of the army and the navy, and the president of the national bank. They included Anna Walentynowicz, 80, the former dock worker whose firing in 1980 set off the Solidarity strike that ultimately overthrew Polish Communism, as well as relatives of victims of the massacre that they were on their way to commemorate.
While the crash is not likely to substantially change Poland’s relationships with other countries, including its plans to host part of an American missile defense system, it could agitate Poland’s relationship with Russia.

Mr. Kaczynski, 60, a pugnacious nationalist who often clashed with Russia, was on his way to Katyn, where members of the Soviet secret police executed Polish officers captured after the Red Army invaded Poland in 1939.

Relations between Warsaw and Moscow have been strained ever since. For half a century, Moscow denied involvement in the killings, blaming the Nazis. But last Wednesday, Mr. Putin took a major step to improve relations by becoming the first Russian or Soviet leader to join Polish officials in commemorating the massacre’s anniversary. He was joined there by Mr. Tusk.

Mr. Kaczynski, seen by the Kremlin as less friendly to Russia, was not invited. Instead, he decided to attend a separate, Polish-organized event on Saturday.

Russia’s leaders, acutely aware of the potential political fallout of the crash, immediately reached out to Poland with condolences. Mr. Putin left Moscow to meet Mr. Tusk at the site of the crash, and President Dmitri A. Medvedev recorded an address to the Polish people, saying, “All Russians share your sorrow and mourning.”
Because this crash resulted in the deaths of other prominent Polish officials (or leadership) well there might be one scramble to see who'll lead the nation. Of course that's not to say that there isn't anyone already there who may prove to be important during this difficult time. Let's just hope that the Poles will learn something from this and hopefully a disastrous crash like this will never happen again.

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